Note: Founding chef Gabe Thompson left Anfora (and the group’s other restaurants) in October 2015.
Anfora is a new wine bar from Gabe Thompson and Joey Campanale, the smart fellows behind dell’anima and L’Artusi. I’ve visited about six times in the month they’ve been open. That’s a lot for me, but I like the place, and it’s on my way home.
The layout is clever, with a long bar on the right side of the narrow space, and several large, cushy, semi-circular banquettes on the left, which can accommodate larger parties. The space feels warm and comforting, but it can get loud when full.
According to the pre-opening press, Anfora emphasizes sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines. Strangely, this is nowhere stated on the wine list itself, so most customers will not be aware of it. I’m not sold on “green” wines as an organizing concept for a restaurant or bar. The terminology is so baroque that most servers cannot even explain it.
Perhaps it is because too much time as been spent on the “green” angle, that the wine list seems unfocused, and lacks the more offbeat selections found at the same team’s dell’Anima, just two doors away. After all, one of the compelling reasons to visit a wine bar is to try funky things you’d never dream of ordering by the bottle. For the most part, Anfora doesn’t have them.
Apparently, the original idea was that Anfora would double as the pre-dinner drinks room for dell’Anima, which is perpetually packed. The staff discovered that many customers were coming in after dinner, so they’ve added a strong list of dessert wines: sherries, ports, and such. It’s the best part of the list. Anfora is one of the few wine bars I know with a hard liquor license, and they’ll mix a cocktail for you too, though that isn’t the reason to visit.
Anfora is located in a former real-estate office, and therein lies some of its limitations. There isn’t a proper kitchen, so the hot menu is limited to what can be prepared in a toaster oven and a panini press. The cook works in a cramped corner behind the bar, and he sometimes falls behind. I loved a simple order of Curry Egg Salad on Sesame Toast ($6), an excellent snack dish, but I was amazed at how long it took to prepare. The menu has been simplified over the last several weeks, as the owners get more realistic about what can be done in such a small space.
Understandably, most of the menu does not require cooking. The cheeses I’ve tried have been great; there are also salumi and salads. But this is not a wine bar that doubles as a full-service restaurant, as some do.
The staff are efficient, and have adapted well to the limitations of the space. Since the food here can never be the equal of dell’Anima, with its full kitchen, I hope that the owners will let Anfora shine with its wine list. The dessert wines that have been added lately are an excellent start.
Anfora (34 Eighth Avenue at Jane Street, West Village)